One of the inevitable things that happens when you book a lot of fights, is that you have to re-book a lot of fights due to injury. The UFC's current schedule pretty much means a small encyclopedia of fight bookings is being generated on a monthly basis. As such, the necessity for short notice callups and injury replacements is higher than ever. No where has this been more apparent than Woman's bantamweight, which has seen a couple of short notice signings in the past few weeks. Most recently, Elizabeth Phillips got the call to face Valerie Letourneau at UFC 174 in Vancouver on only a week's notice. The UFC made the announcement officially, last week. But, the injury bug isn't limited to the women's division, numerous injuries to the San Antonio card have resulted in the signing of Johnny Case, who was going to meet Joe Elenberger (himself originally slated to fight Frank Trevino, who was pulled to fight Abel Trujillo, before dropping off the card altogether). Case has since been pulled from the card due to a reported problem with his medical clearance. And finally, in new signings news, the UFC has picked up lightweight Walmir Lazaro who will take on James Vick at UFC 176.
Who is Elizabeth Phillips?
The 27-year old Washington native trains out of Sikjitsu MMA, home to Julianna Pena, Sam Sicilia, and Michael Chiesa among their many prospective talents. A collegiate soccer player, Phillips comes to MMA without much in the way of a martial background, but with a long history in athletic competition. Her record is an unspectacular 4-1, with wins over similar, but not exceptional competition. Her single loss came in her pro debut, to Miriam Nakamoto, so there's little shame there. She also has an amateur loss, under the RFA banner, to Jessamyn Duke. So she has a little experience against stiffer competition, but hasn't won at that level.
What you should expect:
When I initially started scouting Phillips, I noticed some wrestling videos with her name on them, and assumed they must be of her, and that she would be coming to MMA with a wrestling base. Of course, upon watching the footage, it was immediately clear they weren't of her, and her own account of her athletic accomplishment reaffirms that. But, the notion did color my expectations of her in watching her fights (briefly) as she really is a wrestle first fighter. Her standup has developed, consistently, and is no longer nearly as wild as it was in her amateur career. But, she's not a potent offensive striker. She has a decent, if not exceptional counter punching game, but most of her striking is there as a way to get herself into the clinch.
Once in the clinch, her physical size and strength become her chief asset. She can get herself a bit out of position, and has a bad habit of looking for head and arm throws, but her raw physical tools keep her from paying for too many of her mistakes. She's more than capable of throwing an opponent to the ground from body lock. On the ground, she's very heavy on top and does a good job getting power into her ground and pound while maintaining position. She may not consistently generate as much offense as would be ideal, but that is the price of inexperience and should be fixed in time.
What this means for her debut:
This is where it gets difficult, and I don't mean for Phillips, but for me as a prognosticator of fight outcomes. Both Phillips and Letourneau have very limited skill sets. Phillips is a top control grinder, Letourneau is a distance striker. Both have trouble maintaining consistent offensive output. The biggest difference here is probably going to be in size. Letourneau has fought regularly at 125, Phillips cuts to 135, she is a true bantamweight. Given that, and her desire to get inside and the fact that Letourneau will very likely let her do so, I have to give Phillips the edge. Her debut should be hers to lose as long as she can stay aggressive and work into the clinch.
Who is Johnny Case:
Although I'm not entirely sure if it's his "home gym', it appears that the 24-year old Iowan has been spending his recent training time at Alliance MMA alongside the likes of Jeremy Stephens, Michael Chandler, and the rest of the talent training under Eric Del Fierro. Interestingly, for a fighter still in his early 20's, Case has a wealth of experience under his belt already. he's been a pro since age 17 and will carry a record of 13-4 into the UFC and a current 7 fight winning streak. It's a decent record over good, but not great regional competition, with his losses coming to reasonably talented fighters, one of which, to Derek Getzel, he's since avenged.
What you should expect:
It's really hard to get a bead on just who Johnny Case is as a fighter right now. Watching his bout with E.J. Brooks, he showed a really nice outside kicking game, but little else. He shows the beginning stages of his work with Alliance, with his stutter step footwork and lunging strikes, but little of his boxing appears effective. He also apparently has a long history as an amateur wrestler, and while it shows in some of his scrambling and shot attempts, he doesn't appear particularly adept at stuffing takedowns consistently or chaining his own together. In the brief moment he got top control, he immediately lost it by trying to be overly aggressive in his submission offense. He does scramble well, and seems defensively sound, both inside and at range. That in and of itself may bode well for his future, but he'll need to show more than what I can find of him lately.
Who is Walmir Lazaro?
It's hard not to look at a fighter like Walmir Lazaro's profile on paper, and not be super impressed. At 28-years old the Nova Unia prospect sports a 12-2 record and will enter the UFC on the tail end of a 11 fight, 3+ year unbeaten streak. Add in that 9 of those 12 wins are by TKO/KO and that he's training with Jose Aldo, Renan Barao, and the rest of the Nova Uniao team, and it's hard not to be at least a little excited. It also helps that he's recently been fighting under Shooto and Jungle fight picking up quality wins over other regional prospects like Wande Lopes Santana and Rogerio Karranca.
What you should expect:
Lazaro may be the coming of something special to the UFC's ranks. He bears all the hallmarks of a great Nova Uniao striker. He's hulking for the lightweight division, standing at a muscular 6' and possessing the same combination of crushing kicks and polished boxing that we've come to expect. He strikes to the body regularly and with power and unlike some of his more notable contemporaries, he also appears to use a great deal of head and torso movement on defense. He circles out to avoid incoming strikes, and while he can be a bit overly rigid in combination and rely a bit much on moving his torso and head straight back to avoid strikes, those are small flaws in an otherwise exceptional striking arsenal. As for the rest of his game, it's hard to tell. Takedown defense is going to be his biggest question, but being big for the division will help, and it's a skill that Nova Uniao is notable for.
What this means for his debut:
James Vick has been constantly outstripping expectations in the UFC. He did better on TUF than anyone might have thought and then won his debut over the talented but highly mercurial Ramsey Nijem. He's tall, he has some power, and he's shown surprising skill in jumping on opportunities. However, unless he exceeds all expectation again, I expect him to get smoked here. Lazaro has the makings of a rare talent as a striker and Vick has done well, but he also got KO'd by Michael Chiesa and his wrestling has never set him apart in any way. Essentially, if Lazaro makes an incredibly stupid error, I think Vick will be right there to pounce. But if he stays patient and fights on the outside in the way he has thus far, this is his fight to lose.
To get us better acquainted, here's Elizabeth Phillips last bout against Katie Howard at Conquest of the Cage 16 (her fight starts at about 1:03:00):
And here's Johnny Case's last bout against E.J. Brooks at RFA 10:
And finally Walmir Lazaro's bout against Wande Lopes from Shooto Brazil 45: